How Throwing ‘Haymakers’ Could Determine Red Sox’s 2024 Success

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The Red Sox rotation came out of the corner swinging.

Brayan Bello, Nick Pivetta, Kutter Crawford, Garrett Whitlock and Tanner Houck all pitched well for the Red Sox in their first starts of the season, a development that, if sustained, could push Boston to another level in 2024.

The pitching staff’s talent is apparent. Each hurler has strengths the Red Sox can leverage in their quest to shut down opposing offenses. But Boston’s overall approach from the mound has been the most fascinating storyline through five games.

Basically, the Red Sox are throwing fewer fastballs this season. And there’s a method to the madness.

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“We speak a lot about the fastball in general being a jab and equating that to boxing,” Red Sox pitching coach Andrew Bailey told The Athletic’s Jen McCaffrey. “If you’re going 12 rounds or eight rounds, you’re not going to win by throwing jabs the whole time. The damage is done by throwing your haymakers in your best sequences. Jabs need to be located supremely to do any damage. So when you look at that through a baseball lens, it’s knowing where and when to use your fastballs and leveraging your best off-speed weapons to do the most damage against the hitter.”

The Red Sox split their four-game series with the Mariners in Seattle before taking the opener of their three-game set with the Athletics in Oakland. The win-loss record hardly reflects Boston’s dominance from the bump, though, as Red Sox starters entered Tuesday leading MLB in ERA (1.29) and strikeouts (37) while issuing only one walk.

The Red Sox were the fourth team since at least 1901 to have each of their first five starters in a season pitch at least five innings while allowing two runs or fewer and one walk or fewer.

The new strategy — fewer fastballs; greater pitch diversity — clearly is paying off.

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“I think the history of baseball suggests that when you’re in disadvantaged counts, your best strike pitch is a fastball from an ability standpoint and I don’t think that’s true,” Bailey said, per McCaffrey. “I think pitchers are able to leverage off-speed weapons, if not similarly or slightly above, with some certain pitch types and depending on feel and all that, that can be a learned skill. So as long as strike-throwing is in line and our process stats are in line, our ability to leverage our best pitches in and around the zone is vital to the success of our pitching staff.”

How long can the Red Sox ride their revamped pitching attack? And to what heights, exactly, as they fight for wins?

That obviously remains to be seen. But the early returns suggest Boston might pack a harder punch than anyone could have imagined this season.

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